The reason we left Guam (Part 1)

Guahan means “we have,” in Chamorro. It isn’t that place anymore. And with every family that leaves – and not for lack of trying to make it here – the vision of a better place becomes blurrier. Guam is becoming a more toxic and undesirable place to work and visit with each day that passes.

And with each day that passes, the gulf between the rich and the poor grows just as surely as the population diminishes and the promises from the politicians come charging in. But is the exit of the middle class something any elected official, or all of them collectively, can fix? More so, can anyone reverse the multitude of economic and social factors causing the one-way tickets to Texas, Nevada, the Philippines, Saipan, and into the bosom of the United States military?

‘I love Guam – it is my home – but I just couldn’t afford to live there anymore.’ This is a paraphrase of the overwhelming response Kandit received to a post we published on both Facebook and Instagram two weeks ago, asking the question, “Why did you leave Guam?”

More than 800 people replied, almost all of them providing serious answers. Some poured their hearts out.

Patricia Feore at right

Longtime real estate agent Patricia Feore wrote, “Guam is corrupt with nepotism and cronyism. I am in Singapore now to have a rare form of cancer removed. Guam’s medical resources are so lacking that one can be dead before your doctor’s appointment comes around.”

The lack of medical services, especially for the island’s unique morbidity profile, is daunting in the face of so many more fundamental problems with the health care system.

Have you seen Guam Memorial Hospital lately? Hospitals in Odessa and in cities hit by the war in Ukraine likely look better and are better outfitted with medical equipment, supplies, doctors, and nurses. As the quality of medical care declines, costs are rising. The Guam governor’s office weeks ago revealed that had it not self insured the annual health and dental insurance plans covering its employees and retirees, there would have been significant increases in premiums.

The Guam Medicaid Program appears to be busier than before and is expending more federal funds thanks to the efforts of Michael San Nicolas, when he represented the island in Congress. But, now the problem is trying to get a doctor. There just aren’t enough of them.

Josie Igros Alfred on left

“We made our [first] year in [Las Vegas] and the timing was perfect!” Josie Igros Alfred commented. “With the cost of living in Guam rising, no improvement to the island’s healthcare and environmental concerns, same issues with the public schools, there was no future for our grandchildren. Making the decision to sell our family home was bittersweet, but we are enjoying our new home and just a hop skip and a jump close to families in [California]…we couldn’t be more grateful. All in God’s planning and in his timing.”

A sizable fraction of the exodus occurred during the pandemic, making the coronavirus’ impact on Guam living an underlying factor for many.

Mike Carino

“Been in Guam most of my life. Moved partly because of what Covid did to the island but in reality my family got to complacent living a comfortable routine life back home,” Mike Carino wrote. “That aside my family moved simply because of better economic job opportunities not just for myself but for my kids & grandchild future.The best thing about Guam is it’s people & for some that’s enough to stay but other than that everything else is better in the states more job opportunities & advancement ,better education, cheaper groceries, more things to see & do in terms of travel, recreation & entertainment etc.”

Mike Ulloa scubadiving

“I had no idea [you] moved,” his friend, Mike Ulloa, replied.

Mr. Carino’s roll call of economic woes plaguing Guam is dime a dozen among the responses. While not a scientific survey, the vast majority of the responses point to the untenable, unaffordable cost of living as the prime reason people uprooted their lives and left the only home they’ve known for decades.

As a Chamorro, born and raised on Guam, the most bittersweet responses came from non-Chamorros who made Guam their home. The common paraphrase of their response would be, ‘We love Guam. It is our home. But we just couldn’t afford to live there anymore.’

Will they be back? Will Guamanians come back to Guam?

“If you don’t own a home on Guam already you probably never will if rates and prices don’t come down,” Michael San Nicolas wrote on his Facebook page. “And rents will only go higher over time.”

These are no exaggerations. Even though thousands of Guamanians up and left, there remarkably is a housing shortage, which has doubled the cost of homes and rentals over the past decade.

A house valued at $160,000 in 2012 will be priced on the market for $350,000 despite its lack of modern renovation or its location. Take a look at the listings of homes and condominiums for rent. The majority of the listed prices are for either $2,450 or $2,205 a month: prices targeting people with military Overseas Housing Allowance, or federal Section 8 housing assistance vouchers.

And when Mr. San Nicolas writes that the rents will go higher, he isn’t kidding. The Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority, which administers the Section 8 program recently increased the amounts of their housing vouchers. For example, a qualified family will receive a $2,500 voucher to rent a four-bedroom home or condo.

That is an increase from the $2,200 voucher GHURA used to give out for a home that size. The increase was made in response to the lengthy period of price listings at the $2,450 bracket. And that bracket was created in response to the military housing voucher. It may be a never ending cycle.

The problem is that everyday working Guamanians without a military voucher, Section 8 assistance, or an inheritance of wealth cannot afford to rent a home, much less own one.

Neni Jhok and her family

“[I]ts nothing like home over here,” Neni Jhok wrote, though she did not state where she moved. “Missing the local foods, the lookouts, the beautiful sunrise/sunset views. No matter where I may go, but Guam is my home.”

Priced out of paradise

Those sunsets are becoming among the most expensive in the nation. 

And whether that caused people to leave or to simply go on public assistance is a study needed on its own. But, the comparative current employment surveys published by the Guam Department of Labor tell a stark and depressing story about the state of Guam’s economy:

Since the pandemic started, there are 5,000 fewer jobs in the private sector, a 10 percent slash of the production workforce. Government of Guam and federal government jobs numbers hardly changed in that same period.

That drastic economic decline is somewhat being offset by growing wages, though.

In March 2019, the average hourly wage in the private sector was $14.22 an hour. By March last year, wages had grown 17 percent to an average of $16.70 an hour. 

The economic roses smell better for GovGuam’s 12,000 workers, whose average hourly wages increased from $25.65 to $32.14 in the same period. That is a 25 percent increase in average hourly pay, and this is before the 22 percent pay raise for the thousands of employees on the General Pay Plan.

But what does this mean, together? Well, for perspective, a full time private sector worker making $16.70 an hour will have gross monthly income of $2,672.

The average GovGuam worker will have gross monthly income of $5,142.40.

And while the average GovGuam worker in 2022 made twice his counterpart in the private sector, he still does not make enough to afford either a standard home rental, or mortgage.

Not with the price of medical care, groceries, gas, and electricity, along with payments on whatever bank loans and notes he already has.

All of these costs are rising.

Tyler Aflleje

“[M]y wife worked two jobs and I worked one, every single day,” Tyler Aflleje wrote, answering the question why she and her wife left Guam. “And we could barely afford an $800 room to rent. We’re military now and we have a house we make enough to buy more groceries than we ever could have and we have two dogs whom we take care of. We don’t have to kill ourselves working, just to barely survive anymore.”

Toby Jay Muna Quichocho and his family

“Struggled so bad the cost of living is so expensive even having food stamps and WIC it was a little hard, working OT didn’t help even a little bit!” wrote Toby Jay Muna Quichocho. “Opportunities for my family and I are way better out here although I love my island to death, we got priced out of paradise.”

While the nearly-1,000 responses honed in on the economic struggle inside Guam – a prison from which some stateside of foreign move provided resounding freedom – it wasn’t money alone that caused the move for so many.

Michael San Nicolas

Guam’s former congressman, Mr. San Nicolas, summarized the litany: “Hundreds of public school aircons are broken. A dozen schools don’t pass health inspections. Load shedding is going to continue to 2026. Gas is at $5.50 a gallon. Inflation has prices on everything higher than any raise anyone got, if you even got any at all.”

The conditions of public schools, the crime rate, the drug problem, and elective politics all conspired to make Guam a place that wasn’t welcoming anymore to its own people.

And if I’m being honest with you all: I’d much rather live in Saipan.


  • This is so true. Low income families have to stick together to survive but even at that, most places wont accept three generations living together.

  • The corruption at the highest levels of government is the cause of our beautiful island turning into a 3rd world island. Just like what Lee Weber said, “90% of our tax revenue goes to payroll” can you imagine a private company running its business like that? Does bank of Guam run like that? Does Calvo enterprise run like that? The corruption of Govguam by the career politicians and their corrupt cronies has brought the island to its current state! Govguam is not a employment agency to buy votes, but that is what the corrupt politicians and corrupt cronies have done! They have taken our hard earned tax dollars and are using it all for their personal benefits! The corruption, abuse of power, gross mismanagement of our tax dollars, yet none of them are prosecuted or held accountable! The so called elected attorney generals are part of the organized criminal syndicate known as Govguam! Let’s see if newly elected attorney general Doug Moylan does anything! I won’t hold my breath, the corruption is on both sides, democrats and republicans!

  • Born and raised 18 years – left for 11 years – Came back for 11 years – currently left 4 months ago and at the rate things are going on at home, I’ll die here in the mainland. It’s so sad, I even had a child on Guam in hopes I can raise him with culture in his blood. But once again, I was “priced out of paradise”

  • Alan San Nicolas

      09/20/2023 at 6:46 AM

    Huggan-hu’u, ta respecta I rason niha na man mapos. Magahet si Patricia put I setbisio I man malangu. I espitat GRMC yan I TakeCare ti satisfecho yu ni setbisio niha para I malangu mami. Ma fuñot ( fokse ) I malangu ni apas (espitat). Muchumas pago-go na momentum duru man gupot I bisnes gasolina. FAKMATA GOBETNO I ISLA !!!

  • This was such a great article and reminded me of the reasons I left Guam back in 1997 right after I graduated from high school. It was the same problems, same reasons, and continuous lack of medical care even 26 years later.

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